Land surveying includes surveys for locating and monumenting the boundaries of a property; preparation of a legal description of the limits of a property and of the area included; preparation of a property map; resurveys to recover and remonument property corners; and surveys to subdivide property. It is sometimes necessary to retrace surveys of property lines, to reestablish lost or obliterated corners, and to make ties to property lines and corners; for example, a retracement survey of property lines may be required to assure that the military operation of quarry excavation does not encroach on adjacent property where excavation rights have not been obtained. Similarly, an access road from a public highway to the quarry site, if it crosses privately owned property, should be tied to the property lines that are crossed so that correctly executed easements can be obtained to cross the tracts of private property.

EAs may be required to accomplish property surveys at naval activities outside the continental limits of the United States for the construction of naval bases and the restoration of such properties to property owners. The essentials of land surveying as practiced in various countries are similar in principle. Although the principles pertaining to the surveys of public and private lands within the United States are not necessarily directly applicable to foreign countries, a knowledge of these principles will enable the EA to conduct the survey in a manner required by the property laws of the nation concerned.

In the United States, land surveying is a survey conducted for the purpose of ascertaining the correct boundaries of real estate property for legal purposes. In accordance with federal and states laws, the right and/or title to landed property in the United States can be transferred from one person to another only by means of a written document, commonly called a deed. To constitute a valid transfer, a deed must meet a considerable number of legal requirements, some of which vary in different states. In all the states, however, a deed must contain an accurate description of the boundaries of the property.

A right in real property need not be complete, outright ownership (called fee simple). There are numerous lesser rights, such as leasehold (right to occupancy and use for a specified term) or easement (right to make certain specified use of property belonging to someone else). But in any case, a valid transfer of any type of right in real property usually involves an accurate description of the boundaries of the property.

As mentioned previously, the EA may be required to perform various land surveys. As a survey team or crew leader, you should have a knowledge of the principles of land surveys in order to plan your work accordingly.


A parcel of land may be described by metes and bounds, by giving the coordinates of the property corners with reference to the plane coordinates system, by a deed reference to a description in a previously recorded deed, or by References to block and individual property numbers appearing on a recorded map.

By Metes and Bounds

When a tract of land is defined by giving the bearings and lengths of all boundaries, it is said to be described by metes and bounds. This is an age-old method of describing land that still forms the basis for the majority of deed descriptions in the eastern states of the United States and in many foreign lands. A good metes-and-bounds description starts at a point of beginning that should be monumented and referenced by ties or distances from well-established monuments or other reference points. The bearing and length of each side is given, in turn, around the tract to close back on the point of beginning. Bearing may be true or magnetic grid, preferably the former. When magnetic bearings are read, the declination of the needle and the date of the survey should be stated. The stakes or monuments placed at each corner should be described to aid in their recovery in the future. Ties from corner monuments to witness points (trees, poles, boulders, ledges, or other semipermanent or permanent objects) are always helpful in relocating corners, particularly where the corner markers themselves lack permanence. In timbered country, blazes on trees on or adjacent to a boundary line are most useful in reestablishing the line at a future date. It is also advisable to state the names of abutting property owners along the several sides of the tract being described. Many metes-and-bounds descriptions fail to include all of these particulars and are frequently very difficult to retrace or locate in relation to adjoining ownerships.

One of the reasons why the determination of boundaries in the United States is often difficult is that early surveyors often confined themselves to minimal description; that is, to a bare statement of the metes metesToday, good practice requires that a land surveyor include all relevant information in his description.

In preparing the description of a property, the surveyor should bear in mind that the description must clearly identify the location of the property and must give all necessary data from which the boundaries can be reestablished at any future date. The written description contains the greater part of the information shown on the plan. Usually both a description and a plan are prepared and, when the property is transferred, are recorded according to the laws of the county concerned. The metes-and-bounds description of the property shown in figure 10-34 is given below.

“All that certain tract or parcel of land and premises, hereinafter particularly described, situate, lying and being in the Township of Maplewood in the County of Essex and State of New Jersey and constituting lot 2 shown on the revised map of the Taylor property in said township as filed in the Essex County Hall of Records on March 18, 1944.

“Beginning at an iron pipe in the northwesterly line of Maplewood Avenue therein distant along same line four hundred and thirty-one feet and seventy- one-hundredths of a foot north-easterly from a stone monument at the northerly corner of Beach Place and Maplewood Avenue; thence running (1) North forty-four degrees thirty-one and one-half minutes West along land of. . .”

Another form of a lot description maybe presented as follows:

“Beginning at the northeasterly corner of the tract herein described; said corner being the intersection of the southerly line of Trenton Street and the westerly line of Ives Street; thence running S6 o 29�54��E bounded easterly by said Ives Street, a distance of two hundred and twenty-seven one hundredths (200.27) feet to the northerly line of Wickenden Street; thence turning an interior angle of 89 o 59�16�� and run-ning S83 o 39�50��W bonded southerly by said Wickenden Street, a distance of one hundred and no one-hundredths (100.00) feet to a corner; thence turn-ing an interior angle of. . . .”

You will notice that in the above example, interior angles were added to the bearings of the boundary lines. This will be another help in retracing lines

Figure 10-34.-Lot plan by metes and bounds.


First, some basics about their composition and finish… most instruments were made of wood, brass, or aluminum, although you will find whole instruments or instrument parts made of iron, steel, ebony, ivory, celluloid, and plastic. It is important to remember that many surveying instruments were “needle” instruments and their magnetic needles would not seek north properly if there were local sources of interference, such as iron. The United States General Land Office issued instructions requiring brass Gunters chains to be used in close proximity to the magnetic needle. (They soon changed that requirement to steel brazed link chains; the brass chain could not stand up to the type of wear and tear a chain received.

In American surveying instruments, wood was common until about 1800; brass instruments were made approximately 1775 to 1975, and aluminum instruments from 1885 to the present.

The finish of instruments has changed. Early wooden instruments were generally unfinished and were usually made of tight grained woods which resisted water well. Early brass instruments were usually unfinished or polished and lacquered to retain the shine. In the mid-1800s American instrument makers began finishing brass instruments with dark finishes for two reasons: first, that the dark finish reduced glare and as a result reduced eyestrain, and secondly, that the dark finish helped to even out the heating of an instrument in the sunlight and as a result reduced collimation problems caused by the heating. Beware of being taken in by polished and lacquered brass instruments; prior to 1900 that may have been the original finish for the instrument, but after 1900 , bright brass finishes are usually not original finishes.

There are three kinds of surveying instruments that are rather unique to North American surveying. They are the compass, the chain and the transit. In addition, the engineer’s or surveyor’s level contributed very strongly to making the United States the leading industrial nation in the world by virtue of the highly efficient railroad systems it helped design in the mid 1800’s. I take a great deal of satisfaction in pointing out that in this country it was the compass and chain that won the west, not the six-shooter!

The following is a list of antique surveying instruments and tools with a brief and basic description of how they were used.

ABNEY HAND LEVEL – Measures vertical angles.

ALIDADE – Used on a Plane Table to measure vertical and horizontal angles & distances.

ALTAAZIMUTH INSTRUMENT – Measures horizontal and vertical angles; for position “fixing”.

ASTRONOMIC TRANSITS – Measures vertical angles of heavenly bodies; for determining geographic position.

BAROMETER, ANEROID – Measures elevations; used to determine vertical distance.

BASE-LINE BAR – Measures horizontal distances in triangulation and trilateration surveys.

BOX SEXTANT – Measures vertical angles to heavenly bodies.

CHRONOGRAPH – Measures time.

CHRONOMETER – Measures time.

CIRCUMFERENTER – Measures horizontal directions and angles.

CLINOMETER – Measures vertical angles.

COLLIMATOR – For adjusting and calibrating instruments.

COMPASSES – Determines magnetic directions; there are many kinds, including plane, vernier, solar, telescopic, box, trough, wet, dry, mariners, prismatic, pocket, etc.

CROSS, SURVEYORS – For laying out 90 and 45 degree angles.

CURRENT METER – Measures rate of water flow in streams and rivers.

DIAL, MINER’S – A theodolite adapted for underground surveying; measures directions as well as horizontal and vertical angles.

GONIOMETER – Measures horizontal and vertical angles.

GRADIOMETER – Also known as Gradiometer level, it measures slight inclines and level lines-of-sight.

HELIOGRAPH – Signalling device used in triangulation surveys.

HELIOSTAT – Also known as a heliotrope, it was used to make survey points visible at long distances, particularly in triangulation surveys.

HORIZON, ARTIFICIAL – Assists in establishing a level line of sight, or “horizon”.

HYPSOMETER – Used to estimate elevations in mountainous areas by measuring the boiling points of liquids. This name was also given to an instrument which determined the heights of trees.

INCLINOMETER – Measures slopes and/or vertical angles.

LEVEL – Measures vertical distances (elevations). There are many kinds, including Cooke’s, Cushing’s, Gravatt. dumpy, hand or pocket, wye, architect’s, builder’s, combination, water, engineer’s, etc.

LEVELLING ROD – A tool used in conjunction with a levelling instrument.

LEVELLING STAVES – Used in measuring vertical distances.

MINER’S COMPASS – Determines magnetic direction; also locates ore.

MINER’S PLUMMET – A “lighted” plumb bob, used in underground surveying.

MINING SURVEY LAMP – Used in underground surveying for vertical and horizontal alignment.

OCTANT – For measuring the angular relationship between two objects.

PEDOMETER – Measures paces for estimating distances.

PERAMBULATOR – A wheel for measuring horizontal distances.

PHOTO-THEODOLITE – Determines horizontal and vertical positions through the use of “controlled” photographs.

PLANE TABLE – A survey drafting board for map-making with an alidade.

PLUMB BOB – For alignment; hundreds of varieties and sizes.

PLUMMETS – Same as plumb bob.

QUADRANT – For measuring the angular relationship between two objects.

RANGE POLES – For vertical alignment and extending straight lines.

SEMICIRCUMFERENTER – Measures magnetic directions and horizontal angles.

SEXTANTS – Measures vertical angles; there are many kinds, including box, continuous arc, sounding, surveying, etc.

SIGNAL MIRRORS – For communicating over long distances; used in triangulation surveys.

STADIA BOARDS – For measuring distances; also known as stadia rods.

STADIMETER or STADIOMETER – For measuring distances.

TACHEOMETER – A form of theodolite that measures horizontal and vertical angles, as well as distances.

TAPES – For measuring distances; made of many materials, including steel, invar, linen, etc. Also made in many styles, varieties, lengths, and increments.

THEODOLITE – Measures horizontal and vertical angles. Its name is one of the most misused in surveying instrument nomenclature, and is used on instruments that not only measure angles, but also directions and distances. There are many kinds, including transit, direction, optical, solar, astronomic, etc.

TRANSIT – For measuring straight lines. Like the theodolite, the transit’s name is often misused in defining surveying instruments. Most transits were made to measure horizontal and vertical angles and magnetic and true directions. There are many kinds, including astronomic, solar, optical, vernier, compass, etc.

WAYWISER – A wheel for measuring distances